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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Pasadena Independent / ‘The Idiot Box’: Ambitious, but Uneven Dark Comedy

‘The Idiot Box’: Ambitious, but Uneven Dark Comedy

by Pasadena Independent
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-From left, Grey Rodriguez, Carlo Samame, Jordan Wall

From left: Grey Rodriguez, Carlo Samame, Jordan Wall

By Nathaniel Cayanan

Michael Elyanow’s The Idiot Box tells the story of a group of sitcom characters, a la the 1990s hit TV show Friends, as reality starts to slowly invade their cozy, ideal lives together in an upscale penthouse in New York.

It all starts when Chloe (Julie Dolan) meets Omar (Jonte Legras), the African-American guest star who acts as a catalyst of change and maturation for the Caucasian protagonist.

How does he do this? Well, he kind of acts as an apple of knowledge in the garden of Eden by unintentionally ringing  in the alluring complexities of reality therefore slowly unraveling the sitcom world….or not.

It’s actually unclear what brings reality into this fictional sphere, but how is not important. What is important is the growing self-awareness the characters all experience as one realizes his underlying homosexuality, another shakes off her ditzy persona and a couple slowly realize that their marriage is not all it appears to be. A lot, I know.

But attempts at profundity aside, this specific production crumbles under the weight of the material’s ambitions and unevenness. This is clear even in the opening sequences in which, for 10 whole minutes, the play takes on the nose jabs at sitcom clichés, shouting television’s unappealing plasticity, making it hard to know whether any of what we’re seeing is relevant to the story or if it’s just a joke.

Even when we start to get to the meaty parts of the play, Elyanow’s equal attention to all six characters’ narrative arcs results in underwhelming and somewhat vague conclusions. Pretty much, the play wants to delve into too many complex ideas and emotions that it’s hard to really hold onto anything specific.

Fortunately, the performances do shine from time to time, but only when isolated from one another.

Case in point, Emma Servant and Grey Rodriguez, who play husband and wife Stephanie and Connor, really exhibit some acting chops in their individual cathartic monologues. But when the cast is together, at times they seem incompatible, what with their overlapping dialogue that would even make David Mamet blush.

It is possible however that this inconsistency all goes back to the writing, but in any event, the play holistically takes too long to find its footing and struggles to satisfy in the end.

By no means is this a bad play. There is much to appreciate.

The set design is clever, the ideas and characters are complex and compelling, and, again, the actors do some good work here and there. But in spite of all this, the play’s overall uneven execution prevents it from reaching its intended vision.

The Idiot Box will run at NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood, until June 27. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m., and Sunday performances are at 7 p.m.

Tickets are available online at www.theatre68.com or by calling (323) 960-5068. General admission is $25.

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